Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB): My Lords, like the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, I would like to make a number of points about Motion A1, which my noble friend has laid before your Lordships’ House. In doing so, let me say first to my noble and learned friend Lady Butler-Sloss that she has been involved in the drafting of this legislation, as she said, even before it was presented as a Bill. However, on Report I passed an article to my noble friend Lord Hylton that he had written in 1996, and which I had kept, about the importance of safeguarding domestic migrant workers. No one has done more in your Lordships’ House than my noble friend Lord Hylton to champion their cause. That is why the noble Lord, Lord Bates, was right to pay tribute to him.
Although this risks becoming like a mutual admiration society, I join with the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, in congratulating the Minister on the exemplary way that he has handled the Bill. It has, throughout, been a bipartisan Bill—the Opposition have played a huge part in it, as have people from all Benches in your Lordships’ House—and a bicameral Bill, with a lot of interaction between both Houses. The right honourable Member for Birkenhead, Frank Field—we all wish him well as he recovers from his recent
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heart attack—chaired that important committee on the draft Bill. He is right to emphasise the totality of this Bill.
There is no one in your Lordships’ House, including my noble friend, who will put this Bill at risk in any way whatever, but making a good Bill even better is surely what Parliament is all about. We have made this provision better. I will come back to that in a moment, but it is worth pointing out that supply chain transparency, which my noble and learned friend referred to, was not even in the Bill after the pre-legislative scrutiny stage in another place; it was incorporated on the Floor of the House. Similarly, there was no provision in the Bill on domestic migrant labour when it began to go through its stages. We have been improving it as we have proceeded. The Minister will correct me, but I think in Committee and on Report—I was able to take part in all stages of the Bill—around 100 amendments, many of them emanating from the Government after the discussions we had in the meetings that the noble Lord organised for us, were incorporated into the Bill. That is why it is already so much better than when it began.
I take issue a little with my noble and learned friend. It is the job of parliamentarians to be here until Parliament is dissolved. We have not got to the last gasp; this is not Custer’s last stand, as she put it. I certainly do not regard people laying amendments before your Lordships’ House and giving them proper consideration, as we are doing, as blackmail. I think it unreasonable to suggest that. I ask the Government this in that context: why is it that an amendment that was incorporated on domestic migrant labour about a week ago in another place has taken so long to come back to your Lordships’ House? Why is it here on the penultimate day? Why could it not have been here on Monday, for instance, allowing for more consideration if time is really the issue?
As the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, rightly said, there is plenty of time for this to go to another place tonight. I have served in one or other of these Houses for the last 36 years. As the noble Baroness said, I remember the so-called wash-ups where we were here all night long dealing with things going between the two Houses until we got it right. Often, we got it much better as a consequence. I think back to the LASPO legislation. I moved an amendment concerning the legal aid provisions for people who had contracted mesothelioma. Your Lordships, across the House, were good enough to support it and it ping-ponged back and forth between both Houses. On the third time of asking, the Government relented and modified the legislation. That is our duty as parliamentarians: to seek as much as we can get and to recognise the moment when no more can be gained. I am sure that my noble friend, who has been in your Lordships’ House for a lot longer than I have been, will be able to remind your Lordships of plenty of such precedents. If we are here tomorrow again debating an amendment and the Commons decide that they do not wish to modify Motion A but wish to persist with it, then we will no doubt hear from the noble Lord what he wishes to do.
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I turn briefly to the substance of the amendment. Until we incorporated this new clause, the Bill contained nothing whatever to address the tying of migrant domestic workers to their employers. On two occasions in the last three weeks I have met domestic migrant workers on Cromwell Green, and I know that other Members of your Lordships’ House have done so too. They were brought here by the Kalayaan charity, which the noble Baroness referred to. They told me that when news of the vote in your Lordships’ House on my noble friend’s amendment was announced, a young woman called Marissa Begonia, herself a domestic worker and co-ordinator of the self-help group Justice 4 Domestic Workers, described how she received texts from workers asking her, “Am I free now?”. Unfortunately, of course, the answer is “Not yet”. However, I recognise that the Minister has gone some way today, particularly in what he said about the review, but that review can now take place anyway, regardless of what we decide regarding this amendment. These things are not mutually exclusive.
In a nutshell, the government amendment does not provide additional protections against exploitation. Once someone is trafficked, it forces them to go to the police without any guarantee of protection before they do so. One employment agency told me that it would not place someone on a six-month visa with no hope of renewal. As the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, said, there is a real risk that it could drive people underground—again, with no access to things such as legal aid.
My noble friend’s amendment merely asks for the most basic of protections, and they are threefold: first, to change employer but remain restricted to domestic work in one household; secondly, if in full-time work as a migrant domestic worker in a private household, the option to apply to renew the visa; and, thirdly, in instances of slavery, a three-month visa to allow the workers to look for decent work. Without these kinds of provisions, we leave in place a system found repeatedly during almost three years to facilitate exploitation, including trafficking of migrant domestic workers.
Many workers coming to Kalayaan describe how they have “sacrificed” themselves for the well-being of their wider family. They do not self-protect in the way that someone with more choices would expect. Many explain that they are prepared to put up with practically any amount of mistreatment if they can provide for their children and ensure that the same will not happen to them.
In 2009, the Home Affairs Select Committee, in its inquiry into trafficking, said that the visa issue was,
“the single most important issue in preventing the forced labour and trafficking of such workers”.
No one is so naive—I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Bates—to suggest or imagine that the exploitation of domestic workers would be abolished by such minimal protections, but they would certainly be an improvement on the current situation. The Minister referred to the anti-slavery commissioner designate, Kevin Hyland, and said that he did not feel that this went far enough. Well, he is right about that, so let us at least go as far
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as these amendments and as far as we can by regulation in due course, but let us do as much as we can for the moment.
When the Minister comes to reply, can he say whether the measures might include provisions—maybe as a result of the review—for annual inspections, for checks with the Inland Revenue to ensure that employers have registered and are making reasonable levels of contributions, and for annual meetings between the worker and a trusted authority? All those will be crucial. I believe that my noble friend is right to have laid this amendment before your Lordships’ House and I do not think that it is a question of this being Custer’s last stand. I hope that, from my noble friend’s point of view and because of all the things that he has done in raising this issue in the past, we will continue to give him our support if he chooses to press the matter to a Division.
We Must Send the Maldivian Regime a Clear, Unambiguous and Robust Message: Their Behaviour Is Unacceptable
Miscarriages of justice occur throughout the world, but few are as blatant and outrageous as the trial and thirteen-year prison sentence inflicted on the former president of the Maldives, Mohamed Nasheed.
Best known for its luxurious tourist resorts, pristine beaches and glistening sapphire-blue ocean, the Maldives is currently facing a human rights crisis and the destruction of its nascent democracy.
Seven years ago, the Maldives was held up as a rare example of a Muslim-majority country which made a peaceful, seemingly stable transition from authoritarian rule to multi-party democracy. Mr Nasheed, who led the struggle for democracy for almost two decades and spent many years in prison, solitary confinement and house arrest, defeated Asia’s longest serving dictator Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who had ruled for thirty years, in the country’s first democratic elections in 2008. A transition to democracy which was begun by reformist ministers in the final years of Mr Gayoom’s rule appeared to have been successful.
That lasted for just under four years. In 2012 allies of Mr Gayoom struck back in a coup d’etat, forcing Mr Nasheed to resign the presidency. He was surrounded by mutinying police and soldiers, and threatened with death if he did not step down.
The following year fresh elections were held, but when Mr Nasheed was once again ahead in the first round, the regime cancelled the election and called for a re-run.
Several months later, Mr Nasheed just failed to win an outright majority in the first round, and was narrowly defeated in the second round by Mr Gayoom’s brother, Abdullah Yameen. The Gayoom family is now back in power, his brother as president, his daughter as Foreign Minister, and the old man manoeuvring behind the scenes.
Mr Nasheed is a graduate of Liverpool John Moores University, where I hold the chair as Professor of Citizenship and hosted a Roscoe Lecture delivered by the former High Commissioner for the Maldives, Dr Farah Faizal, after she resigned in protest at the overthrow of Mr Nasheed.
Throughout his ordeal, he has shown extraordinary good grace. Despite irregularities, he accepted the election result in 2013, in the interests of ‘stability’, and vowed to serve as leader of the opposition. Yet the regime has shown itself determined to get Mr Nasheed out of the way – for good. And so they seized on an incident from the final months of his presidency, and pressed charges.
Mr Nasheed was accused of “abducting” a judge, Abdulla Mohamed and charged under terrorism laws. Two such accusations against the Maldives’ symbol of non-violent democracy are in themselves absurd. Assassination threats have been made against his family and there are fears for his life.
During his presidency, Mr Nasheed tried to reform the judiciary but, consisting of Mr Gayoom’s appointees, he came up against vested interests. When allegations of corruption and misconduct were made against Judge Mohamed, the government tried to take action – but again the judiciary closed ranks. Judge Mohamed was accused of repeatedly acquitting known criminals, including murderers, who immediately re-offended, and thus was deemed to be a threat to national security. The Defence Minister ordered his arrest.
Mr Nasheed’s trial was an extraordinary farce. He was manhandled by the police, violently dragged into court, his shirt ripped, his arm injured. He appeared in a sling, but was denied medical treatment. For much of his trial, conducted late at night, he was refused access to legal representation. Two of the judges hearing the case provided witness statements for the prosecution. One of the judges already has a criminal record. The court refused to hear Mr Nasheed’s defence witnesses. Prosecution witnesses were allegedly coached by the police. It resembled the trial in Alice in Wonderland.
Upon hearing the verdict and sentence, on his twenty-first wedding anniversary, Mr Nasheed responded with typical courage and conviction. He called on Maldivians to take the streets, peacefully, in protest, and to begin a new movement to challenge the dictatorship. But he also displayed a remarkable absence of bitterness. “In this time of profound injustice, I harbour no hatred,” he told the court. “And to those who seek to destroy me, I say: I wish upon you good grace and blessings. I wish for good blessings upon us all, in this world and the next.” Comparisons with Nelson Mandela or Aung San Suu Kyi are deserved.
In new rules rushed in just before Mr Nasheed’s trial, an appeal must be lodged within ten days of sentencing. Mr Nasheed filed an appeal against his arrest, which the High Court was due to hear just two days after he had been sentenced. Yet the court insisted on a closed session, which Mr Nasheed rightly refused. Now, in the latest blow to due process, the Criminal Court only released the summary of the trial proceedings two days before the deadline for lodging an appeal against his sentence. They have still not released the full record of the proceedings, which are required for an appeal to be heard. His legal team have described this as “an obstruction” of his right to appeal.
Such a gross miscarriage of justice cannot go unchallenged by the international community. As an MDP spokesperson put it: “Democracy is dead in the Maldives. In its place, we have thuggish authoritarian rule.” Hundreds of Maldivians have been peacefully protesting every night in recent days – at least 120 of whom have been arrested and charged with “terrorism”. Police and criminal gangs have violently attacked peaceful demonstrations. there are also fears for Nasheed’s safety and that of his wife – following assassination threats.
The international community has started to speak out. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has expressed concern about the “hasty and apparently unfair trial”, while the UN Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers has said the trial makes a “mockery” of the Maldivian Constitution.
It is clear that Mr Gayoom’s regime does not respond to soft diplomacy. It is therefore time to speak to the regime in language it will understand, hitting it where it hurts: in its wallet. Targeted sanctions are needed. The European Union should freeze the assets of senior regime officials and their crony backers. A travel ban should be imposed on senior regime leaders. And a carefully targeted tourism boycott, aimed at resorts owned by regime associates, is needed. Sir Richard Branson has already called for such a boycott, and others should join that call.
Democracy, justice and human rights cannot be trampled on with such impunity in a country which had previously made such progress towards these values. This is a Commonwealth country and, given the Commonwealth Charter’s commitment to the rule of law, democracy and human rights, the Commonwealth has a particular responsibility to engage directly. If necessary, the Maldives should be suspended from the Commonwealth. Mr Nasheed should be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. It is in all our interests to send the Maldivian regime a clear, unambiguous and robust message: their behaviour is unacceptable. Mr Nasheed must be released, the charges dropped and the democratic process restored.
At the very minimum, President Abdullah Yameen Gayoom could allay fears for the safety and well being of Mohammed Nasheed and his family by allowing them to leave the Maldives and travel to a country, such as the United Kingdom, where their safety could be guaranteed. In the longer term this might also permit some form of reconciliation, dialogue, and the restitution of due processes of law and democracy.
Ibind unto myself today The strong Name of the Trinity, By invocation of the same, The Three in One and One in Three.
Ibind this day to me for ever. By power of faith, Christ’s incarnation; His baptism in the Jordan river; His death on Cross for my salvation; His bursting from the spicèd tomb; His riding up the heavenly way; His coming at the day of doom;* I bind unto myself today.
I bind unto myself the power Of the great love of the cherubim; The sweet ‘well done’ in judgment hour, The service of the seraphim, Confessors’ faith, Apostles’ word, The Patriarchs’ prayers, the Prophets’ scrolls, All good deeds done unto the Lord, And purity of virgin souls.
Ibind unto myself today The virtues of the starlit heaven, The glorious sun’s life-giving ray, The whiteness of the moon at even, The flashing of the lightning free, The whirling wind’s tempestuous shocks, The stable earth, the deep salt sea, Around the old eternal rocks.
I bind unto myself today The power of God to hold and lead, His eye to watch, His might to stay, His ear to hearken to my need. The wisdom of my God to teach, His hand to guide, His shield to ward, The word of God to give me speech, His heavenly host to be my guard.
Against the demon snares of sin, The vice that gives temptation force, The natural lusts that war within, The hostile men that mar my course; Or few or many, far or nigh, In every place and in all hours, Against their fierce hostility, I bind to me these holy powers.
Against all Satan’s spells and wiles, Against false words of heresy, Against the knowledge that defiles, Against the heart’s idolatry, Against the wizard’s evil craft, Against the death wound and the burning, The choking wave and the poisoned shaft, Protect me, Christ, till Thy returning.
Christ be with me, Christ within me, Christ behind me, Christ before me, Christ beside me, Christ to win me, Christ to comfort and restore me. Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ in quiet, Christ in danger, Christ in hearts of all that love me, Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.
I bind unto myself the Name, The strong Name of the Trinity; By invocation of the same. The Three in One, and One in Three, Of Whom all nature hath creation, Eternal Father, Spirit, Word: Praise to the Lord of my salvation,
Salvation is of Christ the Lord.
Originally posted on :
For more on Croagh Patrick also see “Pilgrim Ways” (Chapter beginning at page 82)
Mountain tops – from Sinai to Tabor – along with the remote places and wildernesses have always been associated with numinous and significant spiritual experiences. Mountains can seem lonely, isolated or insurmountable, hostile for some but, for others, places of refuge. Our language is littered with idioms and expressions that invoke the imagery of mountains – faith moving mountains, mountains out of molehills, Mohammed coming to the mountain, and the rest.
The physical experience of climbing a mountain is accompanied by a commensurate spiritual experience as we set our sights on the high place where God is. In climbing we can both look down and back, considering where we were before: perhaps seeing it as a low place. On gaining the summit we may be rewarded by panoramic views and glimpse life’s bigger picture.
“(11A) The Secretary of State may by regulations appoint an organisation or an individual to collate slavery and human trafficking statements, and to maintain a website on which to publish those statements in a form in which the published data is searchable by members of the public without charge.”
Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB): My Lords, in introducing Amendments 3 and 6 to Clauses 54 and 57, which are based on Amendments 97A, 98A and 99A which we discussed on Report, I am grateful to my noble friend Lady Young of Hornsey, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Derby and the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of Cradley, for adding their names and to other noble Lords in all parts of the House for the support they have expressed for the principles in these amendments at all stages, not least the noble Baroness, Lady Mobarik, on the government Benches, and my noble friend Lord Sandwich, who spoke at earlier stages of the Bill on the issues raised in these amendments.
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I start by reiterating the welcome I gave in Committee and on Report for Part 6, which is undoubtedly a major step forward in ensuring that supply chains are not being infiltrated by modern slavery. I return to the issue that I raised at Second Reading, in Committee and on Report and, indeed, through public correspondence in the correspondence columns of the Times. Noble Lords may have seen some of the letters that were signed by several Members of your Lordships’ House. At every stage of our proceedings when I have raised the issue, the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Bates, has been most attentive and very generous with his time in listening to suggestions on how this part of the Bill might be improved and strengthened. I join others in echoing the remarks made on the previous group of amendments by the noble Lord, Lord McColl, who said how grateful we have all been for the way in which the Minister has engaged. I hope that we will see that again today when he comes to respond to these amendments, although I recognise that the way in which government works may well mean that he has perhaps not been able to gain the support of other arms of government. In those circumstances, only Parliament itself can make the decision, make the pace and ensure that if it believes that the principles in this amendment are worth incorporating, that is done.
These two amendments would allow, through regulation, for a central website to be established on which the slavery reports of businesses may be lodged. This has not only been supported by noble Lords; it has been consistently asked for by civil society groups, which have so much experience of working with businesses on supply chains. I was delighted to receive support from Amnesty International UK, Anti-Slavery International, CAFOD, the CORE coalition, Dalit Freedom Network UK, the Evangelical Alliance, Focus on Labour Exploitation, the Law Society, Quakers in Britain, Traidcraft, Unseen and War on Want. I am also grateful for the letter I received from the Equality and Human Rights Commission, which supported the principles outlined in the earlier Amendment 99A and reflected in the amendment today.
Without the incorporation of a central repository for slavery and human trafficking statements, the role that the Minister outlined on Report for civil society, investors, consumers and other agencies in holding big business to account would be very difficult, if not nigh on impossible, to fulfil. Just reflect for a moment on the substantial obstacles to accessing annual turnover information that indicates the companies that fall within the compliance threshold, let alone the vast number of different websites that would have to be trawled through, and it is patently obvious why a central repository must be established.
The successful basis of any measure intended to increase transparency is the ability of the public to access information, and as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Derby said last week on Report,
“the modern tool for transparency is the website”.—[
, 25/2/15; col. 1741.]
Doubts were expressed on Report about whether the proposal for a central website enjoys the full support of Kevin Hyland, the designate Independent Anti-slavery
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Commissioner. I am glad to be able to tell your Lordships that, since Report, Mr Hyland has written me. These are his words:
“I can confirm I fully support the suggestion of a website as the central repository for reports as suggested by yourself and other noble Lords”.
He adds that without such a site and adequate resourcing of it,
“it will be unlikely to achieve the objective”,
but the creation of such a,
“repository with the right resource would, I believe, make a very positive difference”.
On Report, I also cited the highly responsible companies, some of which I met. The noble Lord, Lord Patel, and I met Primark. We also heard from Associated British Foods, and I know that some of your Lordships have heard from Sir Richard Branson and businessmen such as John Studzinski of Blackstone, who have argued for more transparency and equitable arrangements, so this is not a trivial matter. If we are serious about supply chains and tackling modern day slavery at source, our new commissioner says that this will “make a positive difference”, and I believe he is right.
Experience from overseas supports this judgment. Many noble Lords have been contacted by some of the groups involved in the implementation of the California Transparency in Supply Chains Act of 2010. They urge us to learn from their experience that people need to know which companies are required to comply with the law and that an official website to which companies upload their reports will be beneficial.
In a letter to the Minister, the Californian organisation Not For Sale said that the failure in California to create a centralised repository has made it,
“difficult to know which companies need to comply with the law, and which do not”.
In another letter, the Californian Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking say that the failure to make a provision of this sort has weakened the effectiveness of their legislation. Let us not make the same mistake.
On Monday this week, British church leaders also expressed their support for this provision, and 11 of them signed a letter in the Daily Telegraph urging the Government to incorporate into this Bill the principle of a central body to which businesses can report on what they are doing to eradicate slavery from their supply chains. Yesterday I was contacted by the Ethical Trading Initiative to express its support for this measure in general and for a central website in particular, which it regards as essential to achieving a level playing field. As noble Lords will be aware, the initiative is a coalition of major UK companies, trade unions and non-governmental organisations, including many familiar high street names that would be required to comply with this measure. It is worth hearing what they say:
“We would like to express our strong support for Clause 54 to ensure that a relevant government department or agency is appointed and resourced to publish a full list of all companies that are required to publish their statements on modern slavery in an accessible central website so that effective monitoring and accountability can be assured. We believe this would go a long way to levelling the playing field for ethical and responsible businesses, ensuring that they are not undercut by unscrupulous companies that operate under the radar of public scrutiny. We would
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also like to know that this will be monitored and updated regularly and that the quality of information provided by companies is evaluated against established criteria”.
To this long list of supporters I would like to add the Minister himself, as on Report he accepted the principle, saying that,
“we want to see these statements in one place so that people can monitor and evaluate them to ensure that the intended action takes place”.—[
, 25/2/15; col. 1750.]
However, sometimes, as we all know, Ministers, however good they are—and we have been fortunate in having one of the very best Ministers in the Government dealing with this Bill—are circumscribed by the limitations imposed by other departments whose officials may have other priorities. On such occasions, Parliament may need to insist on its own priorities, and we have a chance to do that today.
In conclusion, these amendments have attracted widespread support. They are necessary to enable full and meaningful public scrutiny under the transparency measure, and they will allow time for detailed questions on the resourcing and practicalities to be fully discussed before the regulations are made. I beg to move.
Baroness Kennedy of Cradley (Lab): My Lords, I speak in support of Amendments 3 and 6 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool, to which I have added my name. I very much hope that they will get the Government’s support today, as there is much on which we all agree regarding this issue. There is agreement across the House that civil society is critical to the success of this part of the Bill, and there is agreement that we expect civil society to review the statements and add pressure where pressure is due. We want the amendments—we need them, even—in order to be able to scrutinise, analyse, and where necessary challenge, business; and, importantly, to praise businesses for the steps they take to eradicate slavery in their supply chains. If we want businesses to fulfil that role, we need to facilitate their doing so, and Amendments 3 and 6 would do that.
I have seen calculations that estimate that if the threshold figure of more than £60 million is used, more than 10,000 businesses will be obliged to produce a statement. If that is the case, it is absolutely inconceivable that civil society, businesses, which want to learn from each other, or indeed the Government, who want to ensure compliance with their legislation, will be able to review 10,000 statements without the use of technology. Technology gives us the power to access information and bring about real change, which is the intention behind this part of the Bill and behind the statements. Let technology do the hard administrative work and be the engine that really drives forward supply chain transparency. Those involved in the California Act recognised that there was a gap in their legislation. We should listen and learn from their experience and not repeat their mistakes. As the noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool, said, this is an enabling amendment that allows the technology and the responsible organisation or individual in the future to be decided by regulation.
In conclusion, we have to harness the power that technology can give us to increase transparent supply chains and drive change. I hope that the Government will support the amendment.
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The Lord Bishop of Derby: My Lords, I support these amendments and thank the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for his leadership. I associate myself with the remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, about websites and technology.
I have had the privilege of being in conversation with the Minister about the importance of this legislation and what we are trying to achieve for our country as a mark to the world: that is, helping business to develop and change its culture, and to take responsibility for good practice. Of course, the discipline of using a website will enable businesses to be accountable to their investors, their consumers and their shareholders in a transparent and open space. That will encourage good business practice and help the businesses that have fallen short to be challenged. Therefore, this very sensible and practical suggestion will not only help the Bill to achieve its objectives but will help the culture of business to change in a positive way and make the employment of people in slavery less likely.
I want to make a couple of other small points. Amendment 3 includes the word “may”. Therefore, it is inviting the Minister to agree to this direction of travel as a priority to deliver what we all want to achieve through the Bill. This has been a long journey and we have learnt a great deal on it. As other noble Lords have said, we have been extremely grateful for the way in which the Minister has listened, negotiated and developed the Bill appropriately when persuasion has been there. I think that that process will go on. The website will provide for learning to go on and, with practice, to develop.
My final point is that last week, in talking about the Gangmasters Licensing Authority, we were reminded that organisations like that were able to access proceeds of crime to help fund the work. If we need to find a way of funding a website, which could be quite labour-intensive in answering all the niggly questions to which people expect a reply, the proceeds of crime might be a proper place from which resourcing might be found.
Baroness Young of Hornsey (CB): My Lords, I support the amendment moved by my noble friend Lord Alton. The Minister has referred several times to the California Act during the passage of this Bill. In both Houses it has often been cited as a sort of reference point or a benchmark. We should learn from that experience. As has already been said, the Californians are saying that this is the one aspect that they regret having missed out on. They see the work embodied in the two amendments as an essential tool. The essence of this part of the Bill is transparency. We cannot have full transparency without information and knowledge.
As I said at earlier stages, many young people in particular, in the wake of disasters in the clothing industry such as Rana Plaza, are keen to know about the provenance of their clothing. As my noble friend Lord Alton has already noted, the internet is a key tool, and many young people—and some older people, too—use social media to communicate about companies they see as not upholding their values. Pressure from consumers is something that the Government have said they are keen on. It is a way of holding businesses to account and a way of ensuring that they think about their reputations and how to protect them.
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Therefore, consumers have some power. However, while I argue that it is not solely down to consumers to keep a check on unscrupulous businesses, I accept that they have a role to play. Without the requisite knowledge and information it is hard to play any kind of role at all.
How could such a role be played without the kind of centralised information, the potential for which this amendment allows the Secretary of State to explore? Who, apart from specialist researchers, would even know which companies met the threshold for inclusion under the Bill, let alone find the required statements from those companies that would enable them to make their choices? I wish we could say that all companies are so concerned about reputational damage that they act in ethical and sustainable ways, but unfortunately they do not. That is one of the reasons why we need the Bill. Good businesses have said that transparency is an aid for them, not a burden. Given the widespread support for this measure in the House, from business, NGOs and, indeed consumers, I hope that the Minister, who, as everybody has said, has been so helpful in not just listening to what we have had to say but in acting on so many of the concerns expressed here and elsewhere, will take this opportunity to respond positively to the amendment and help the Government to become genuine world leaders on this aspect of the Bill.
Baroness Butler-Sloss: My Lords, I strongly support Part 6 of the Bill but, as the Minister knows very well, there is quite a big gap. If businesses are to produce reports, there is no point in having them if they are looked at only by their own people. They need to be subject to independent and transparent scrutiny. That has to go somewhere. It seems absolutely clear that there has to be a central, independent website.
During the Select Committee, a number of big businesses came to talk to us and made it clear that they wanted level playing fields. Like the noble Lord, Lord Alton, I have been talking to big businesses recently which are very interested in and supportive of the idea of a website. I actually suggested to two big businesses to which I spoke—I will not refer to them by name because it would be unfair—that they, with other big businesses in the UK, might put forward the money to put up a website. So it would be not a government website but an independent one, and the businesses that want a level playing field should be prepared to pay for it. According to the sort of companies I have been talking to, it should be a very large sum of money.
I see this as something that might take some time, and the ethical trading organisation is one that it might very well work through, because it is involved with so many companies. It may be sensible for the Government to say, “Would you like to get big business?”. My idea was not thrown out as absolutely ridiculous. What companies were saying to me was, “We have to think about it”. So I am very aware that this would take some time, but it is important that, within a relatively short time, we have that transparency so that the companies which will be part of this system can have their reports scrutinised.
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It seems to me that, if the Government are prepared to accept in principle that they should look at a website —and, preferably, get someone else to pay for it—and they think in principle that this is what should happen, it should not be necessary to have it in primary legislation. It should be either by regulation or set up through government agencies or by government pressure on independent companies. So I support the principle and very much hope that it is not necessary to take this further.
Lord Young of Norwood Green (Lab): My Lords, I declare an interest as the ex-vice-chair of the Ethical Trading Initiative. I have spent a good few years of my life discussing with companies, trade unions and NGOs the complexities of supply chains. The noble Lord, Lord Alton, spoke of the positive endorsement of the Ethical Trading Initiative, and I hope that the Minister will be able to respond positively.
Although I agree with most of what the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, said, I did not quite agree with the conclusion. It is a principle that is worth including in the Bill because we have to recognise that all these companies are on a journey. The complexities of global supply chains, which stretch far and wide, are not easy to monitor by any means. We know what happens when it goes wrong, as we saw in Rana Plaza in Bangladesh. That is just one example of many. There are lots of other examples where, unfortunately, bonded labour and child labour exist in supply chains. There is cross-party support for this amendment and there is absolutely no doubt about its importance. I, too, congratulate the Minister, who has displayed good diplomacy and a willingness to help to ensure that we make this Bill as strong and as effective as we can. This is a key part of the effectiveness of the Bill.
Surely what we are hoping to do in creating a website like this is “encourager les autres”, as they say— my French is not very good but it means to encourage the others. We want people to say, “Here are the examples of best practice. Here is what every company ought to be aspiring to do”.
I will not take up any further time because so many, such as my noble friend behind me, have made all the key technical points. I look forward to the Minister’s response.
Baroness Hamwee (LD): I certainly took from the Minister’s long and careful response to the amendments on this clause at the previous stage that he entirely took the points that are being made today. He said that all of us are willing and keen to accept the principle that the statements ought to be put in one place and made easily searchable and identifiable. I take it from that and from other comments that this is something that the Government are working on.
The Minister then mentioned a two-day tech-camp. Frankly, that sounds terrifying, but I wonder whether he has any news of that. He issued a generous invitation to Members of the House to attend it. I am not sure whether I would be up to it myself, but it sounds as though it holds the seeds for taking this matter forward and I hope that he can give us a little more news.
The Earl of Sandwich (CB): My Lords, Third Reading is an occasion for tributes and I hope that the Minister is not too embarrassed to receive all these tributes.
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He has worked very passionately on the Bill and I congratulate him. We are asking a very small step of the Minister today. I mentioned this before. It was a small step then and remains small, although, even so, it may be the biggest step that he takes today.
My noble friend has put all the arguments so succinctly that I will not rehearse them. I add only one particular point, which is that I personally would not like to see the voluntary sector carrying the load of this responsibility. The way that the amendment is worded is very gentle. It states:
“The Secretary of State may by regulations appoint”.
It does not actually say that it has to be a government agency. That is the interesting thing about the amendment—it takes us just a very small step further.
I mentioned to the Minister at a private meeting that the situation of the groceries adjudicator may be a parallel to look at, but I would not want to wait for consultation. I do not agree with my noble and learned friend that we have to wait longer for that. I think that the House will decide today in favour of the amendment unless the Minister has something else.
Baroness Mobarik (Con): My Lords, I, too, add my name in support of the noble Lord’s amendment, which I believe will be helpful to both businesses and consumers. I am particularly pleased to note that the business community, through the Ethical Trading Initiative, has expressed its support. I echo what it said about the need for a level playing field. I am proud of what we have achieved on the Bill and I am committed to the journey that we have begun, so I very much hope that my noble friend will feel able to accept the amendment.
Lord Rosser: I will make one or two brief comments. I certainly do not want to repeat all the powerful arguments that have been put forward in support of these two amendments. But to reiterate what the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, said a moment or two ago, this is an enabling power for the Secretary of State. The amendment states “may by regulations”. It does not say “must”, and it does not specify who should be appointed. It simply says,
“appoint an organisation or an individual”.
I would have hoped that the Minister would feel able to go down this road, since it does not make a very specific commitment but it gives a positive indication of the direction in which we should be going.
It is heartening to hear from the noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool, that Mr Hyland is in favour of what is proposed in the amendment and has described it as being “able to make a positive difference”. I think that that was the wording that was used. I would only conclude by reiterating what the Minister himself said on Report. He said:
“I think it is more important to get the principle there—that we are saying, with all these statements coming together, that clearly they need to be in one place. Whether that is civil society, an NGO, a commissioner or a government body is something that can be sorted out. But the principle is that we want to see these statements in one place so that people can monitor and evaluate them to ensure that the intended action takes place”.—[Official Report, 25/2/15; col. 1750.]
I really cannot see the difficulty with this amendment, since it achieves precisely the thing that the Minister said that he and the Government want to achieve.
4 Mar 2015 : Column 237
Lord Bates: First, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Alton —I think I want to thank him—for his amendment. In essence, it is like a number of these things. As the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, accurately surmised, we are more or less on the same page. The question is: do we at this stage want to have this written on the page, or do we want to leave it to something that we will come to a little later?
I sometimes get the sense—it might just be the Whip’s instinct in me—that people are preparing to take a run at testing the opinion of the House and they are galloping up the runway. I urge the noble Lord to bear with me a little while, while I try to set out what we are doing. I am putting on the record some things which I have not been able to put on the record before, but I am seeking to go further. I just ask him to keep an open mind as to whether at the end of this stage I have managed to convince him that, should he choose to withdraw, he will be withdrawing further down the path to where we all want to be at the end.
One of the key elements that we have here is another consultation going on at present about these very things. It is worth mentioning, because I genuinely want to flag it up and say that NGOs, companies and organisations —the Ethical Trading Initiative—would be people whom we would want to engage actively with this consultation, which was a concession; it was something which we said we would do in response to concerns raised in your Lordships’ House. We launched the consultation and it is open until 7 May. Question 13 on the consultation specifically asks:
“What would good practice look like … ?”.
When we deal with the publication of these statements, we hope that all the comments made here will be taken into that consultation, as well as the remarks which have been made about people who have been arguing passionately about this long before the clause was in the Bill. The noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, led a very constructive debate on supply chains when the clause was not even a twinkle in the Home Office eye at that stage. It is in the Bill now and we are talking about how to make it work.
Much as I love the state of California, I find it an astounding gap that the home of Silicon Valley could not fathom out a way to create a website to consolidate all these statements in one place and make it easily searchable. That is a bit of a concern. One would think there would be lots of local companies—without naming any—which might be perfectly capable of doing that.
My noble friend Lady Hamwee asked me to report back on what had happened to the tech camp. It is actually just finishing and it is another element that I want to put in here. It was an initiative put forward by the Home Office in response to the precise question that the noble Lord put in his amendment. We set up the tech camp with the Home Office, Unseen, a charity which works with many trafficked people, and Deloitte consulting, which does a lot of work in the technology field. They have had two days looking at what solutions might exist in technology to enable this collation to take place very effectively. I cannot provide a read-out from the tech camp because it is meant to finish about now in St Paul’s in the City, although given that they are technical whizz-kids they probably clocked
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off a couple of hours ago. I certainly undertake to give noble Lords a read-out from that important gathering.
I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for soliciting from Kevin Hyland the commitment of support that he has given. That is helpful. He is the Independent Anti-slavery Commissioner-designate, and we cannot therefore direct him to do things, but he is suggesting he might have a role. Of course the point here is that everybody is in principle in favour of doing this, but not until they know what will be involved. A key point, as mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, is where the threshold is drawn for how many companies we will be talking about. Will it be tens of thousands or thousands? How many will we be dealing with? That will obviously impact on people’s views.
I will put some comments on the record that I hope will help. It is important that we focus on the problem we are trying to solve—finding the best way for people to find and compare statements, whether that involves a central website or not. As we all know, technology is constantly evolving, improving and finding new solutions to old problems. As such, I am not yet convinced that a centrally controlled website established by legislation—the point the noble and learned Baroness made—would represent the most dynamic or effective way of increasing transparency and solving this problem in the long term.
For example, it might be that some kind of search engine or online comparison tool provides a more efficient means of finding and comparing statements. Internet platforms that draw information straight from the companies’ home websites would mean that the information could be verified more easily and that businesses could ensure that it was always up to date. The last thing we want is misinformation circulating about businesses on a second website, or an expensive and time-consuming process of validation to ensure that false or out-of-date statements are not being uploaded to a central website.
I ask my noble friend to record in particular that this is not to rule out a central website. I just think we should keep an open mind about how best to provide this service to investors, campaigners and the general public. To that end, we are taking action. Even since last week, in response to contributions, we have had the tech camp. As I explained on Report last week, this two-day event has brought together a number of different NGOs and technology companies. We are using this opportunity to talk directly to technology companies and to some of the businesses that will be producing these statements to determine the best options. I am pleased to say that discussions have already highlighted a number of interesting ideas which we want to pursue with the businesses as quickly as we can. These developments are really promising but simply do not require a legislative basis.
I reassure the noble Lord that the Government will be behind an effective solution to this issue, making sure it is easy to compare statements and working with partners to facilitate the true transparency that we all want. We can use the statutory guidance to tackle any steps needed to facilitate a solution and ensure that statements are as freely and as widely available as
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possible. Doing this through guidance will mean that we can regularly update and refresh it to reflect technological change and ensure our best practice recommendations stay alive to future innovation.
As the House knows, we are currently consulting on that guidance, as I already mentioned. Although I entirely appreciate the sentiment behind the amendment, it does not take us any further than the powers that are already there for the Home Secretary, once this Bill is passed. Additionally, the Home Secretary can, if she wishes, allocate funds and appoint administratively a person within the Home Office to run a central website if that proves to be the right solution. The Home Secretary could also support, financially, an NGO or other external provider to provide a website, through providing technical support, funding or referring to it in the statutory guidance.
These debates have helped to ensure that the Government are focused on working with NGOs and businesses to develop an effective solution. The amendment does not provide for placing any new duties on businesses, so it would add nothing substantive to the Bill. Given the comments I have made about the capability that the Home Secretary has, the ongoing consultation and my clear statements on behalf of the Government expressing a desire to see these collected in one place, I ask whether this might be the reassurance that the noble Lord seeks, enabling him to withdraw his amendment and work with us to ensure that we bring this important innovation to fruition.
Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for the way he has addressed the issue. Whatever the outcome today, I will of course work with him, as I have done all the way through on this issue as we have considered these proceedings. The noble Lord, Lord Young of Norwood Green, gave us part of an old French saying about encouraging others. I think the first part of that saying is that you should shoot a few admirals to encourage the others—certain noble Lords are not here at the moment, so nobody will take that personally.
It is certainly not my desire that we should shoot this Minister—indeed any Minister, but not this one in particular. As I said in my opening remarks, the noble Lord, Lord Bates, has been exemplary in the way that he has dealt with the House throughout all our proceedings. He is a fine example to other Ministers in piloting legislation through your Lordships’ House. He has offered us today a consultation which is under way, the “tech camp”, which the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, referred to earlier—which is welcome—and more guidance. In a way, at the end, he pointed to the difference that stands between us: whether something should be in the Bill—a point alluded to by my noble and learned friend Lady Butler-Sloss—or whether it should be purely discretionary. As the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of Cradley, pointed out, this is actually a discretionary amendment, because it allows for regulation and says, as the right reverend Prelate pointed out, “may” not “must”. It will be there for the Secretary of State to use. Therefore it is not prescriptive in any great sense.
The noble Lord has told us that we should wait for a consultation, but I cannot think of an organisation—and I cited many in my opening remarks—that we would
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consult about this proposal that has not already come out in favour of a central repository which should be available to prevent people from having to trawl across the internet to find individual companies. How on earth is anybody going to do that? Who will know who makes the threshold required in this legislation and who does not?
The noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, and my noble friend Lady Young said that we should learn from experience. The Californian experience has been cited here. If only they had their time again. It is not about the inability of people in Silicon Valley, as the Minister said, to construct a website. It is quite the reverse. It was the failure of legislators to place a requirement in their legislation that such a central website should be provided, so there would be a repository where everyone meeting the threshold would have to place an account of what they were doing to combat modern-day slavery and human trafficking. There are moments when Parliament needs to help Ministers out and this is one of them. I therefore beg to test the opinion of the House.
Division on Amendment 3
Contents 205; Not-Contents 232.
Amendment 3 disagreed.
Originally posted on :
Modern Day Slavery and Human Trafficking – update on the latest amendments and debates on the Modern Day Slavery Bill
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Report Stage amendment on Supply Chain Transparency:
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow my noble friend Lady Young of Hornsey. I strongly support her Amendments 93 and 94 and the government amendments in this group.
Like my noble friend, I thank the Minister for meeting me and other noble Lords and a number of civil society stakeholders earlier this month to discuss transparency in supply chains. Noble Lords will recall that I and the noble Baronesses, Lady Kennedy of Cradley and Lady Mobarik, raised this issue in Committee. I also spoke about it at Second Reading. The Minister kindly said that, unusually following the…
House of Commons Amendment To Safeguard The Lives of Unborn Girls Defeated – 201 votes to 292 votes – Full debate and the Division List of how MPs voted follows:
On January 22nd, 73 Members of the House of Commons signed an amendment to the Serious Crime Bill based upon the Abortion (Sex-Selection) Ten Minute Rule Bill.
At the conclusion of its Committee Stage , Fiona Bruce laid an amendment to Section 65 of the Serious Crime Bill 2014, clarifying that the Abortion Act 1967 does not permit a pregnancy to be terminated on the grounds of the sex of the unborn child.
Fiona Bruce MP
The amendment was selected by Mr.Speaker for debate at Report Stage and was voted upon. If it had succeeded it would have become law when the Serious Crime Bill receives Royal Assent.
This short amendment would have gone into Part 5 of the…
My Lords, I beg to move that the Grand Committee do report to the House that it has considered the draft Pneumoconiosis etc (Workers’ Compensation) (Payment of Claims) (Amendment) Regulations 2015, and the Mesothelioma Lump Sum Payments (Conditions and Amounts) (Amendment) Regulations 2015. I am required to confirm to the Committee that these provisions are compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights, and I am happy to do so.
These two regulations will increase by 1.2% the lump sum amounts payable under the Pneumoconiosis etc. (Workers’ Compensation) Act 1979 and the diffuse mesothelioma scheme set up by the Child Maintenance and Other Payments Act 2008. These new amounts will be paid to those who first satisfy all the conditions of entitlement on or after 1 April 2015. These two schemes stand apart from the main social security benefits uprating procedure and there is no legislative requirement to review the level of payments each year. None the less, I am happy to confirm the increase of the amounts payable for 2015 by the consumer price index. This is the same 1.2% rate that is being applied to industrial injuries disablement benefit and some other social security disability benefits under the main social security uprating provisions.
The Government recognise that people suffering from diseases as a result of exposure to asbestos or one of a number of other listed agents may be unable to bring a successful claim for civil damages relating to their disease. This is mainly due to the long latency period between exposure and onset of the disease, often stretching back decades. Also, even pursuing a claim can take some time. We therefore fulfil an important role by providing lump sum compensation payments to sufferers of certain asbestos-related diseases through these two schemes. This does not debar a civil claim, which can still be pursued. These government schemes also aim to ensure that sufferers receive compensation while they themselves can still benefit from it, without first having to await the outcome of civil litigation.
Improved health and safety procedures have restricted the use of asbestos and provided a safer environment for its handling. However, the historic legacy of the common use of asbestos is still with us. That is why we are ensuring that financial compensation from both these schemes is available to those affected. I will very briefly summarise the specific purpose of these lump sum compensation schemes. The Pneumoconiosis etc (Workers’ Compensation) Act 1979 scheme—which for simplicity I shall refer to as the 1979 Act scheme—provides a lump sum compensation payment to those who suffer from one of five dust-related respiratory diseases covered by the scheme but are unable to claim damages from employers because they have gone out of business and have not brought any action against others for damages. The five diseases covered by the 1979 Act scheme are diffuse mesothelioma, bilateral diffuse pleural thickening, pneumoconiosis, byssinosis and primary carcinoma of the lung, if accompanied by asbestosis or bilateral diffuse pleural thickening. The 2008 mesothelioma lump sum payments scheme was introduced to provide compensation to people who contracted diffuse mesothelioma but were unable to claim compensation for that disease under the 1979 Act—for example, because their exposure to asbestos was not due to their work. The 2008 scheme means that payments can be made quickly to diffuse mesothelioma sufferers at their time of greatest need. Under both schemes, a claim can be made by a dependant if the sufferer has died before being able to make a claim.
The rates payable under the 1979 Act scheme are based on the level of the disablement assessment and the age of the sufferer at the time the disease is diagnosed. The highest amounts are made to those diagnosed at an early age and with the highest level of disablement. All payments for diffuse mesothelioma under the 1979 Act scheme are made at the 100% disablement rate—the highest rate of payment. Similarly, all payments under the 2008 scheme are made at that 100% rate and based on age, with the highest payments going to the youngest sufferers.
I will give some detailed figures on claims and monies paid out under the two schemes. In the last full year from April 2013 to March 2014, 3,300 people received payments under the 1979 Act, amounting to £45.1 million; 440 people received payments under the 2008 scheme, amounting to £9.4 million. The total compensation paid out under both schemes during this period was therefore £54.5 million.
Around half of payments made under the Government’s 1979 Act scheme are for diffuse mesothelioma. I know the occurrences of diffuse mesothelioma are a particular concern of Members, with the number of deaths in Great Britain continuing to rise. It is a fatal disease caused almost exclusively by exposure to asbestos. Those diagnosed usually have a short life expectancy, generally between nine and 12 months, with the sufferer becoming severely disabled soon after diagnosis. The rise in the number of cases reflects the long latency period of the disease, which can take decades to become apparent. Latest available information suggests that deaths will continue to increase to a peak of around 2,500 in 2018 and then start to fall, reflecting a reduction in asbestos exposures following its peak use in the 1960s and 1970s.
These regulations increase the levels of support through the government compensation schemes and I am sure we all agree that while no amount of money can ever compensate individuals and families for the suffering and loss caused by this disease and the other dust-related diseases covered by the 1979 Act scheme, those who are suffering rightly deserve some form of monetary compensation. The government schemes go some way to ensuring that they receive it as soon as possible. I commend the increase of the payment scales and ask approval to implement them. I beg to move.
My Lords, I think we are all grateful to the Minister for the way in which he has introduced the regulations today. He has talked about some very significant sums of money to assist some of those who, through either pneumoconiosis or mesothelioma, have had a death sentence merely as a result of their going out to work. I commend the Government for the uprating that they have announced today.
I have some questions for the Minister. He rightly said that Members from all sides of your Lordships’ House have been anxious, first in supporting the Government in the provisions of the Mesothelioma Act last year, but also in pressing for far more resources to be made available, both to those who have been victims of mesothelioma and for the important work involved in research in finding cures and the causes of mesothelioma.
I notice that the Government say in the Explanatory Note:
“An impact assessment has not been prepared for this instrument”.
Although I realise that that is a fairly technical thing and it is not a requirement for the Government to do that in this case, I wonder if that might be reviewed for the future, with regard to such an impact statement and assessment along the lines that the Minister has just referred to. I was not certain what he meant about the year in which he said the number of mesothelioma victims was likely to peak. Perhaps he could repeat it.
The year is 2018. It is very helpful to know that that is the case. That seems to differ from some of the dates that have previously been given by Ministers and in parliamentary replies.
Will the Minister assure me about continuing assessments, so that when these regulations come forward—alas, they will come forward on a regular basis—we can have much more up-to-date information about the total numbers and how the trajectory appears to be working out? I hear very different accounts from people who say that, as a result of diagnosis now being made in a different way from the past, the numbers are being assessed in different ways. Quite alarmingly, we see the incidence of mesothelioma in non-traditional groups. Those of us who have represented sufferers—through the trade union movement, in the case of some noble Lords here, or by representing constituencies, particularly in urban areas—have always been used to meeting people who worked as tunnellers or masons, or in traditional heavy industries. However, there is no doubt that there has been a significant increase in the number of people who present with the disease for no apparent reason—people who are domestic workers, who perhaps have just been at home or who work in schools, and particularly people in the Armed Forces.
It was the noble Lord, Lord West of Spithead, who mentioned in the House that people he had been at Dartmouth and had literally played snowballs with asbestos at that time, not realising the dangers. He mentioned the number of significant figures in the Royal Navy who had contracted mesothelioma and subsequently died. One of the things that I would specifically like to see in an impact statement would be categories of workers, such as those in the Armed Forces, for which we monitored the number of deaths from mesothelioma that were recorded so that we had a far better idea of the impact that this was having. I know that there will be particular interest from a number of those from the Armed Forces who have been following our debates. It was wonderful that the noble Lord, Lord West, along with the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, and others, were able to meet some of those from the Royal Navy who have contracted mesothelioma, here in your Lordships’ House just a couple of weeks ago.
The Explanatory Note also says:
“It is intended that these rates will be reviewed each year”.
Perhaps the Minister could confirm whether that will always be in accordance with the consumer prices index, as it has been on this occasion.
I shall return to a Question that I raised on the Floor of your Lordships’ House on 9 December, which was answered by the noble Lord, Lord Faulks, on behalf of the Government. It touches directly on the allocation of money, and where it comes from, regarding some of the payments that are made to those who have become victims of mesothelioma. During the passage of the 2014 Act, Ministers said that the levy on the insurance industry would be set at 3%; in fact, the quote from the Minister in another place was:
“Three per cent. is 3% and we have no intention of moving away from it”.––[Official Report, Commons, Mesothelioma Public Bill Committee, 12/12/2013; col. 117.]
I asked this on 9 December and I ask it again today: why then has it been set at 2.2% when that original undertaking was given by the Government? That represents a shortfall from the insurance industry of around £11 million, so this is not a small sum of money. Although I welcome the subsequent uprating that the Government have announced in the total amounts of money that victims will be awarded under that legislation, I wonder whether there is a shortfall that still can be reclaimed from the industry and which might therefore be used to assist with the problem of research.
I moved an amendment in your Lordships’ House—I think it was defeated by a majority of about seven—which would have placed a requirement on all insurance companies to contribute to another levy to provide for mesothelioma research. I commend those insurance companies, and there are two big players, which have continued to step up to the plate to provide contributions towards research, voluntarily and without a statutory obligation to do so. They put the other companies, of which around 150 are involved, to shame but what they contribute is far from enough. It also raises the question of why more public funding is not provided to tackle the disease.
I would be grateful if the Minister could confirm a figure. The Government have previously said to me that around 50,000 to 60,000 people will die of mesothelioma over the next 20 to 30 years. The Chief Medical Officer, Professor Dame Sally Davies, who is also the Government’s chief scientific adviser for health, has said:
“I hope the research community will now respond by generating new research proposals that will provide robust evidence to help people with mesothelioma”.
What I have quoted was also said by the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Faulks, in response to a question from the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, who said:
“There needs to be a certainty that the money is there but the top-level researchers also need to be aware of it so that the money and the level of the research capability are brought together”.
The noble Lord, Lord Faulks, also said:
“The funding is very much there”.—[Official Report, 9/12/14; col. 1711.]
However, that seems to contrast with both the Question that I tabled in your Lordships’ House and with a letter which I have received from him.
The Question I refer to was answered as recently as 23 February where, in a table, the Government say that there have been four successful applications. One of them is “Subject to contract” and the others have been successful in coming forward to tackle mesothelioma. But then there are several applications which have been turned down, and which were for substantial sums of money. I would be grateful if the Minister could tell us how this therefore accords with the idea that there are plenty of applications and that they have been sufficiently successful, because that does not seem to be the case.
In the letter that the noble Lord, Lord Faulks, wrote to me on 16 December 2014, following the exchanges on the Floor of the House, he said:
“In the last five financial years, the MRC and NICR have received just over twenty applications for grants or fellowships that relate to research on mesothelioma. Of these eight applications were successful resulting in an average success rate of 40%”.
That does not seem to be a very high success rate when we are dealing with the potential loss of life of so many British people, who have contracted this disease simply as a result of going out to work.
During the debate on my Question the noble Lord, Lord Giddens, told your Lordships that his own wife had died of mesothelioma. A few days ago, along with the noble Lords, Lord Giddens and Lord Saatchi, I met the British Lung Foundation who introduced us to a brilliant young woman who is a registrar in London. She told us that she is the only person working anywhere in the world on an innovatory treatment, using adult stem cells which are targeted at mesothelioma cells. She says that that has proved extremely successful in the animal models that have been used. My heart rose when I heard that, and there are other examples that I could cite but I do not want to take up too much of your Lordships’ time today. Surely this is the sort of innovation we must encourage. During our meeting, she told us that it would take £2.5 million to move from the stage that she has reached now on to clinical trials. Again, that does not seem an outrageous sum of money in terms of what we might be able to achieve.
As a result of bringing forward these regulations today, I hope that the Minister will give us some assurances that he will return to the House—with a letter that can be sent to Members of the Committee, with further written replies to Parliamentary Questions or in Statements to the House—to tell us what progress is being made to ensure that we tackle this problem at source. Otherwise, I suspect that year after year, for the next 20 or 30 years, we will be gathering in places like the Moses Room and looking at lists of people for whom compensation is being given to deal with the effects of a disease which at the moment has no cure and which wreaks such tragedy in the lives of so many ordinary working people in the United Kingdom.
To leave out from “that” to the end and insert “this House declines to approve the draft Human Fertilisation and Embryology (Mitochondrial Donation) Regulations 2015 laid before the House on 17 December 2014 and calls on Her Majesty’s Government not to lay new draft regulations until a joint committee of both Houses has been established and has reported on (1) the safety of the procedures permitted by the draft regulations, (2) the compliance of the draft regulations with European Union and domestic law, and (3) the key definitions used in the draft regulations”
Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB): I am sorry to interrupt my noble friend, but, given that my noble friend Lord Patel mentioned this case, perhaps I might reinforce what she is saying, because Newcastle is not offering to provide donation opportunities for women but is asking them whether they will sell their eggs, at £500 per cycle. We all know that that can lead to hyperovulation syndrome, an issue which I raised in your Lordships’ House last week and which I know concerns many of us from all sides of this argument. So there is another dimension involved in this. My noble friend Lord Patel was also right to say to my noble friend Lady O’Loan that when we debated these issues in 2009 many of us pointed to things like adult stem cells and the work being done by Professor Shinya Yamanaka. We said then that arguing for animal/human hybrids was a diversion when much more important work, like that which the noble Lord, Lord Patel, has just mentioned, could have been undertaken.
Baroness O’Loan: I thank the noble Lord for that intervention. I am not arguing against this process; I am arguing against the introduction of these regulations at this time in the absence of sufficient knowledge and protection. We have to look at the factors, as the noble Lord, Lord Alton, said. Being paid to donate one’s eggs constitutes a very serious issue for women who are in poverty and who will do it as a way of raising money, possibly even to look after their own children. We need to provide protection for such women
Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB): My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Winston, and I agree on much of what he has been saying today. However, in 2013—just two years ago—when he spoke at the Intelligence Squared debate, he said:
“And it’s worth bearing in mind that abnormal children have been born as a result of mitochondrial transfer. This has been completely unpredictable”.
I wonder what, if anything, has happened to change his mind about that. I suspect that he and I are agreed that there obviously are dangers involved in this and safety questions that he will want to address. May I also ask him—and I will not intervene on him again—whether he agrees with what my noble friend Lord Patel said earlier about the situation in China? I have with me the document Fertility and Sterility 2003, vol. 80, published on 3 September 2003, which was written by Zhang and others, who looked at the procedure that was used in China. Although we were told that this was not cytoplasmic transfer, does he agree with my noble friend Lord Patel, or does he agree with what is here in the statement that this was a pregnancy derived from human nuclear transfer?
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Lord Patel: May I comment on that, since the noble Lord refers to me?
Lord Alton of Liverpool: I did actually ask the noble Lord, Lord Winston.
Lord Patel: I think that the noble Lord was asking him to reply to my comment. He is quite right that China has used pronuclear transfer techniques, but the disaster was upsetting to me.
Lord Winston: I am very concerned that the noble Lord, Lord Patel, might get into trouble with the Whip sitting on the Front Bench. I am always in her bad books, and I would not want to allow him to be in her bad books as well.
Let me answer the noble Lord, Lord Alton. It is true that, two years ago, I said that it was unpredictable; of course, these things are unpredictable. In the context in which I was speaking, that was correct. To be fair, however, the noble Lord, Lord Alton, knows that, with the case of Jacques Cohen in New Jersey, 17 babies were born after mitochondrial transfer. Therefore, there has been some other evidence—other than that evidence from China—that suggests that this is not quite as daft as proposed. Added to which, of course, in two years, a huge amount of research has been done by our colleagues in Newcastle. They have been working flat out on a whole range of tests which, I think, have made a very big difference. Since the statement that I made in the House, three different committees have looked at the safety.
Science does not have the truth; we have a version of the truth. We have to interpret what we can as best we can.
I deeply respect the noble Lord, Lord Alton, as he knows very well. We both come from a very strong view about what is the right thing to try to do wherever possible. However, I feel here that, apart from the issue of preserving healthy life, if we decide not to vote for the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Deben, we are doing something really important.
Lord Alton of Liverpool: I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Ribiero. Before he moves on, I want to speak to his point about adoption. Your Lordships will have seen the recent parliamentary reply on this. In the past five years, around 5,000 newborn babies have been available for adoption. That is all, compared with more than 1 million babies that have been aborted during that period. Does he not think that we should be much more interested in seeing if we can put right that imbalance?
Does he also recognise that there is a difference between the two techniques that are being offered to the House today, maternal spindle transfer and pronuclear transfer, in that one requires the destruction of human embryos, 2 million of which have been destroyed since the original legislation was enacted in 1990, and the other does not? On the basis of what I think he believes and says, is it therefore not only more prudent but more ethical to use the technique that does not result in the destruction of human embryos?
Lord Ribeiro: It was made very clear by the noble Lord, Lord Patel, and others that the need for the two techniques is to allow the HFEA to make a decision on which is the preferable technique. We have a situation at the moment where many of the embryos that are produced are discarded after the 14 days or so that are allowed. I will not go into the question of adoption. It is a matter of choice. If the family would prefer to have a child without this affliction, that is their choice, and they may not choose to go down the adoption route.
Lord Taylor of Holbeach (Con): My Lords, it is a rule of this House that only one person speaks at one time. I ask noble Lords to be seated, please. We are in some difficulty. A number of noble Lords still want to speak. I understand that; this is a serious matter. Perhaps I might suggest to them that they will attract the approval of the House if they keep their remarks brief. Most noble Lords have come here with contributions to make, and they are speaking from extensive notes. It would help us all if we could move this debate to a conclusion; many noble Lords have indicated that to me. Therefore, while I do not for a moment suggest that we move to that stage now, I ask noble Lords to be orderly in allowing others to speak and to be brief.
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Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, I am grateful to the House. Although of course I have ethical objections to the regulations, which are well founded and have been pretty well rehearsed on previous occasions, the Motion in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Deben, does not invite us to vote on the ethics. Therefore, accepting what the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, has just said to the House, I will not explore those ethical issues today but will stick to the points that the noble Lord, Lord Deben, raised earlier on, which concentrate on safety, legality and definitions. In supporting the Motion I want to address three points: procedure, pertinent questions and the specific issues posed by pronuclear transfer—one of the techniques made legal by these inappropriately combined regulations. It is worth saying in parenthesis that there is a third technique, polar body transfer, which was referred to during the discussions that the noble Earl was good enough to arrange for a group of us to have. That is being explored at this time, and will require yet more regulations to come before your Lordships’ House.
A noble Baroness: So it should.
Lord Alton of Liverpool: Yes, and so it should, as the noble Baroness says. However, why are they not being taken together, why is there a hurry, and why are we not considering them all at the same time? Some raise particular issues, and others raise different issues, so many of us find that being asked to take it or leave it today is very difficult.
Some 41 Members from all sides of the House of Commons have written to your Lordships asking us to provide the opportunity for further consideration to be given to these regulations. For 18 years I served in another place. I would have been appalled if only 90 minutes had been provided during my time there, when we discussed in 1990 the original legislation or subsequent changes to it—90 minutes on unamendable regulations. Half the House of Commons—300 compared with 350—either voted against or abstained: 128 voted against, 172 abstained, and 300 voted for. As the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Scotland, said to us earlier on, the Lord Chancellor—and we have heard from an eminent and very learned noble Lord today, a former Lord Chancellor—and the Attorney-General both voted against the regulations. Subsequently, we have received representations from 50 Members of the European Parliament—I say to my noble friend Lord Walton that they were not all Roman Catholics—including Socialists, Christian Democrats, Communists, Greens and others, and internationally respected scientists, challenging the safety and the legality of what we are being asked to approve. Last week Professor Christopher Exley, a British scientist, described these procedures as,
“a genetic experiment which could have disastrous consequences for generations”.
That is not a religious view. This requires us to take the moderated view that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Carlisle commended to us earlier on. Yet, procedures permitted only a 90-minute debate in the Commons on an unamendable order, and if it were not for the noble Lord, Lord Deben, today, we would not have the opportunity to be discussing these complex questions—
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Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton (Lab): As a point of fact—and I hope that the government Chief Whip will agree with me—we would have debated this order in this Chamber under the normal procedures of this House with or without the amendment that was put down, because that is the practice of this House. I can see the government Chief Whip nodding and the noble Baroness who chairs the Delegated Powers Committee agreeing.
Lord Alton of Liverpool: I am glad to hear what the noble Baroness, Lady Farrington, has said to us today. It is important that it should be on the Floor of this House, therefore we are all agreed. I contrast the 90 minutes given to the House of Commons to discuss this with the 90 hours that Parliament spent discussing fox hunting. I ask noble Lords to contrast those things. We are required to show due diligence and scrutiny, especially over controversial legislation.
It is not just the absence of the preclinical tests recommended by the HFEA that suggests that the cart has been placed before the horse, but the disingenuous decision by the clinic promoting these regulations—even before your Lordships have debated, let alone approved, these regulations—to offer women money, as we heard from my noble friend Lady O’Loan earlier on, to sell their eggs for these procedures, a practice which itself can be injurious to their health, while telling us:
“It was never about politicians voting on whether it was safe or not”.
That seems almost a contempt of Parliament, and is certainly an extraordinary dismissal of health and safety considerations, which everyone has admitted this afternoon are a consequence of what we are being asked to agree. We have a duty to satisfy ourselves about questions of public safety.
I have experienced this afternoon something of a sense of déjà vu on the arguments, which are so reminiscent of those which persuaded your Lordships to vote for animal/human hybrid embryos in 2007. Although my noble friend Lord Patel, who I think is about to intervene on me again, said earlier on that there was a significant breakthrough by Professor Shinya Yamanaka just two weeks after the Bill passed, that is not entirely accurate. The Yamanaka breakthrough came in 2006 in the journal Cell, not after the Bill passed but before it was even published. If you look back at the Hansard, as I hope Members will, I argued repeatedly that the proposal was redundant because of the Yamanaka breakthrough and that we should not have voted for it. However, despite the Yamanaka breakthrough, many argued that animal/human hybrid embryos were necessary.
Before we rush pell-mell into authorising something which the rest of the world—from the federal agency in the United States to the People’s Republic of China—has prohibited, may I ask the Minister to answer some pertinent questions? First, what regard has he had to the increasing demand for women to give up their eggs for these techniques, the failure of the HFEA to monitor the drugs and dosages used for ovarian stimulation, and published data by Newcastle indicating an incidence of hospitalisation due to such stimulation due to the
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frequent collection of more than 20 eggs per cycle? Does he regard it as ethical to ask women to sell their eggs for £500?
Secondly, what is the cost of these regulations, both human and financial, when pronuclear transfer—the second of the procedures that have been referred to— requires the destruction of at least two and in some cases 10 healthy embryos for every procedure? Contrast the financial cost, too, of an issue I have raised regularly on the Floor of your Lordships’ House; namely, the failure to provide vital and much needed public funding into finding a cure for diseases such as mesothelioma, which will take the lives of 60,000 British people in the next 30 years.
Thirdly, and more specifically, why have the Government not waited for the outcome of the HFEA’s recommended preclinical experiments before proceeding? Fourthly, like noble Lords today, Dame Sally Davies, the Chief Medical Officer, said at a meeting that I attended with the noble Earl:
“No one will guarantee that it is safe”.
That being so, and given the absence of safety trials, how much has the National Health Service set aside for compensation if safety fears are realised? One recent payment to the parents of a baby damaged at a hospital reached a staggering £10 million.
Finally, I turn to the specific issue of pronuclear transfer. These regulations have bundled together two different procedures. As I said, pronuclear transfer—PNT—unlike maternal spindle transfer, requires the destruction of human embryos. It is a technique that has been specifically advocated by researchers at Newcastle. To date, most applications of this technique have been in mice. However, the Weatherall report of 2006, sponsored by the Academy of Medical Sciences, the Royal Society, the Wellcome Trust and the Medical Research Council, on page 85 stated the following:
“Humans and non-human primates share many features of reproductive biology that are not present in other mammals … Hence, rodents and other non-human primates have only limited usefulness as models of human reproductive physiology”.
Consistent with this, the report of the HFEA’s expert panel in April 2011 said that before the technique could be considered safe to use clinically, it was critical to undertake,
“PNT in a non-human primate model, with the demonstration that the offspring derived are normal”.
Has this been done? Nearly four years later, the answer is still no—even though most postgraduate researchers would have already completed a doctorate within this timeframe.
Strikingly, a news article for the journal Nature stated on 19 January 2012:
“The Newcastle researchers do not have plans to determine whether primates conceived through pronuclear transfer come to term and are healthy”.
Remarkably, the HFEA’s expert panel then changed its mind about preclinical experimentation in primates being critical for pronuclear transfer, in its ensuing report in 2013. The only explanation provided was exceptionally brief and far from compelling. It said that:
“Current research using PNT in Macaques has yet to be shown to be successful. From unpublished data it appears that Macaque zygotes do not survive the PNT process well”.
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The panel now believes that the macaque may not be a sufficiently good model for the human. If macaque embryos do not have a good record of surviving pronuclear transfer, and human eggs are even more sensitive, are not problems with human embryos more likely? Surely this suggests the need for proceeding even more cautiously, not less.
The Joint Committee proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Deben, should reflect on the HFEA expert panel’s minutes of 12 February 2013, in which Dr Dieter Egli, of the New York Stem Cell Foundation, explains that he was,
“sceptical about the clinical application of PNT”,
because a structure known as the centrosome may be left behind, and that,
“the consequences of this need to be investigated”.
The proposed Joint Committee should also consider the minutes of the HFEA teleconference with Dr Shoukhrat Mitalipov on 30 January 2013, which reported:
“Dr Mitalipov expressed the view that development of MST or PNT embryos to blastocyst was not in itself enough to give confidence that the techniques are safe and effective”,
and the recent remarks of Professor Justin St John, a geneticist at Monash University in Australia with considerable expertise on the behaviour of mitochondria in nuclear transfer, who said:
“As well as analysing foetal development in a non-human primate model, it is essential to analyse offspring to determine that no abnormalities appear at least during early life”.
Not only have the researchers at Newcastle refused to perform such preclinical research in non-human primates, I have been unable to find evidence of their own prior experience in obtaining healthy offspring of any species following pronuclear transfer, or even in taking any such embryos past the blastocyst stage.
Lord Willis of Knaresborough: Clearly, I am not going to get to speak this evening, so I ask the noble Lord a very simple question. Does he have any faith at all in the HFEA to do what it actually says on this tin? If the regulations are passed today it will then have the job of deciding when it will be safe to go ahead and grant a licence. If he does not have that faith in the HFEA, will he please say that? Because I do.
Lord Alton of Liverpool: I serve on my own university’s ethics committee, which looks at the use of animals in experiments. Apparently, one of my roles on that committee is to be, as it were, the animals’ friend and to ask whether the experiment is repetitive, whether it is necessary to do such things and to what it is going to lead. There is no one on the HFEA who is the friend of the human embryo. That is a bizarre situation and one I would like to see rectified. But to take the noble Lord at his word, of course I think the HFEA often does a good job, and I admire many of its members.
I will simply say one other thing to the noble Lord. The HFEA is a regulator, not a legislator. That is our duty here today and that is why we are having this discussion. I am conscious that others wish to intervene and I am grateful for the patience of your Lordships’ House in allowing me to put these points. As we ponder on these serious issues revolving around public safety and questions of definition and legality, they deserve far better consideration and scrutiny than has
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been provided thus far. Surely we should remember the wise advice that those who legislate in haste repent at leisure. Therefore, the proposal of the noble Lord, Lord Deben, for a Joint Committee of both Houses to examine the safety and legality of these regulations deserves our support.
Baroness Barker (LD):
I like the fact that I live in the United Kingdom where we debate these matters. We have the involvement of people from the church and from different faiths and walks of life. We also listen to contributions from people such as the noble Lord, Lord Alton, who are consistently and wholly opposed to this issue. However, it is important that his voice is heard. I do not want the ethical decisions to be sent off to the courts as they are in the United States.
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The scientists have been absolutely straight with us and have given us the relevant information. They have not said that this process is safe or guaranteed because they cannot do so. The noble Lord, Lord Alton, is right—they will have to come back to us if techniques developed in the future prove to be better and safer than those we are discussing. However, given the information that we have, I for one feel that this Parliament has been fully informed and that we can make a decision—and I hope that we do.
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath (Lab): My Lords, I sense that the House wants to come to a decision.
Just over 14 years ago, I asked the House to agree that embryology research could be extended to cover diseases such as Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, cancer and diabetes. This provision had been anticipated and included as a regulation-making power in the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990, which had allowed embryology research but only for conditions such as infertility and congenital diseases.
The 2001 regulations were passed following a Motion moved by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, to whom I pay tribute for his integrity and perseverance. However, his Motion to establish a Select Committee prior to the regulations being approved was defeated by 212 votes to 92.
The Commonwealth Today: At Talk Given at Liverpool John Moores University – February 12th 2015.
David Alton (Lord Alton of Liverpool)
The main thrust of my remarks this evening will centre on the opportunities which the Commonwealth offers to the City of Liverpool and especially to its universities; and why we should designate Liverpool as “A Commonwealth City.”
As the Romans divided Gaul into three provinces, I will divide my remarks into three parts:
What the Commonwealth stands for in the modern world;
What the declaration of Liverpool as a Commonwealth City might offer us; and
What is the special role of the Commonwealth in promoting education?
By way of preamble, not long after I went to Westminster, some 36 years ago, I joined the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association and have been a member ever since. Worldwide it has 16,000 members.
I was subsequently invited to become Chairman of the Council for Education in the Commonwealth, and for some years I served in that capacity.
I have travelled in many Commonwealth countries and, among speakers for the Roscoe Lecture series, which I host and moderate for Liverpool John Moores University, have been the former Secretary General of the Commonwealth, Sir Don McKinnon, who says “The Commonwealth is a pretty good investment for Britain but it has not always used it best.”
In that Roscoe Lecture Sir Donald saw the Commonwealth, and so do I, as a unique organisation which seeks to entrench a genuine culture of democracy and interdependence in a fragmented and increasingly dangerous and intolerant world.
So I’m a fan – but is this about more than motherhood and apple pie?
Turning to those three provinces of Gaul:
What the Commonwealth stands for in the modern world
Let’s be clear about what the Commonwealth is and what it isn’t.
It isn’t a voting bloc of nations – like “the Communist bloc” of yore – a geographical bloc like the African Union – a militarised bloc – like NATO or the Warsaw Pact – a trading organisation like ASEAN – or a legislative body like the European Union. Nor is it a mini United Nations.
Perhaps the nearest parallel is with the Council of Europe, Europe’s oldest intergovernmental organisation, covering some 820 million citizens and is an advisory international organisation promoting co-operation between European countries and working to uphold human rights.
Inevitably, the Commonwealth’s identity is shaped by shared history, friendship, and an increasing understanding that blocs have their limitations – and produce their own strait-jackets – whereas looser networks can often produce innovative and more interesting relationships and opportunities.
As we commemorate the First and Second World Wars we should never forget the willingness of Commonwealth combatants to give their lives in defence of our freedom. In the Great War there were 1.5 million Indian volunteers alone.
If, to try and avoid such conflicts, you believe in “soft power” – and I do – or smart power as I prefer to call it – then you will surely conclude that the Commonwealth, the British Council and the BBC World Service, are three of the best ways of delivering it.
And if you believe in “development power” – as the best antidote to the illiterate barbarism and determined uniformity of groups like Daa’sh – ISIL – or Boko Haram and the rest – then it must be right to focus our now ring-fenced 0.7% commitment of overseas aid (90% of which is development aid) than through the Commonwealth – where 800 million live in official poverty? In 2014 we allocated around £2 billion for development projects in Commonwealth countries.
The virtue and point of a global organisation, in a world where communications and travel have never been easier but also where we face global challenges – from climate and environmental degradation to grinding poverty and health pandemics – is self-evident. Although, as Sir Donald McKinnon reminded us, we have not always used it for the best.
Today, some 53 independent and sovereign states comprise this voluntary organisation par excellence. Some 2.2 billion people live in the Commonwealth, 60% are under the age of 30.
The Commonwealth spans five regions and is diverse in a world where Jihadists and totalitarian regimes seek to impose a brutal uniformity. It has a combined GDP of £5.2 trillion.
It is not a rich man’s club and includes some of the poorest as well as richest nations; some of the fastest growing economies; some of the most populous; and some – its island states – of the most sparse and remote. From micro-states in Polynesia to members of the G8, the Commonwealth straddles north and south, east and west, linking nations and people throughout the world.
The Commonwealth also unites nations which hold divergent religious and secular beliefs – and in a world riven by communal hatred, suspicion, fear and intolerance, what a wonderful house it is that can provide a home for the dignity of difference.
Today’s rising generations place so much emphasis on social networking and interconnectedness. With its 80 intergovernmental civil society, cultural and professional organisations, the Commonwealth knows a thing or two about networking and interconnectedness.
Comprising over a third of the world’s population, the Commonwealth has a fascinating past, but is not a museum, it is a model which could offer the world a more hopeful future.
But just what hope does it hold out for us; for what does the Commonwealth stand?
Look at its Charter.
In a year that we celebrate landmark historic anniversaries – the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta, the 750th anniversary of the barons meeting at the first Parliament in Westminster, and the fiftieth anniversary of the State Funeral of Winston Churchill – it is worth recalling that it is only two years since this 66 year old forward looking organisation set out its core values in its formal Charter.
In a single and highly accessible document the Charter draws together the values and aspirations which unite the Commonwealth – democracy, human rights and the rule of law.
It is said that President Nasser of Egypt once said to Prime Minister Nehru of India “I put my extremists in prison. What do you do with yours?” Nehru replied “I put mine in Parliament”. His were the values of the Commonwealth.
The Charter commits its members to upholding democracy; human rights; peace and security; tolerance, respect and understanding; freedom of expression; separation of powers; rule of law; good governance; sustainable development; environmental protection; access to health, education, food and shelter; gender equality; and the importance of young people and civil society.
Clearly, not all Commonwealth countries have turned the rhetoric into a reality but by agreeing them it enables levels of mutual accountability which are not based on imperialism but on shared aspirations.
At a practical level, having officially observed over seventy elections, and having been willing to suspend membership – in the case of countries like Zimbabwe or Fiji – and see the withdrawal of countries like Pakistan and South Africa – for reasons ranging from military coups to racism – the Commonwealth has made clear what it stands for.
It is significant that many of those countries, subsequently sought readmission – and even formerly Francophone countries like Rwanda, with no historic link to the UK, have become members. Clearly, those countries see the Commonwealth as a strong and respected voice in the world, speaking out on major issues; and proactively strengthening and enlarging its networks. It also says a great deal about this country’s most important export: its language.
The Charter affirms that a special strength of the Commonwealth lies in its combination of diversity and shared inheritance in language, culture and the rule of law; being bound together by shared history and tradition; by a respect for all states and peoples; by shared values and principles and by concern for the vulnerable,
In a nutshell, the case for the Commonwealth is grounded in its ability to be a compelling and effective force for good – a good deed in a pretty nasty world – and to be a non-threatening place and network where we can promote development and progress.
So what relevance does any of this have for the city of Liverpool?
What might the declaration of Liverpool as a Commonwealth City might offer us?
I was delighted to hear that Edward Harcourt, Pro-Vice Chancellor of Liverpool John Moores University, who invited me to give this lecture, and Cllr. Richard Kemp of Liverpool city Council – had been talking about how Liverpool could take a more active role in promoting commonwealth links.
I first met Richard 43 years ago when he asked me to speak at a political meeting for other young people in a room over a pub in Leyland. I made no apology then, and do not do so this evening, for saying I love my country but believe we, as a maritime nation, are called to have an internationalist vision and to join forced with like-minded nations in upholding shared values.
It is why, as a boy I joined the Anti-Apartheid movement, why I argued for membership of the Common Market, why I helped found charities like Jubilee Campaign, and why I chair parliamentary committees like the All Party Group on North Korea.
The United Kingdom is at its best when it is outward looking and at its worst when it becomes narrow or xenophobic: the same is equally true of what once called the Second City of the Empire, the Gateway to America and arguably the world’s first global city – the City of Liverpool.
Liverpool has grown into a global city because of the people who have settled here or passed through it – and rightly describes itself as the whole world in one city. Equally it is the whole Commonwealth in one city.
Liverpool’s historic role and status as a maritime centre and port city has contributed to its diverse population – drawn from a wide range of peoples, nations, cultures, and faiths. Home to the oldest Black African community in the UK it is home, too, to Europe’s oldest Chinese community.
Granted its Borough Charter in 1207, in the ninth year of the reign of King John, Liverpool formally became a city in 1880 – although the urbanisation of the late 18th century had already transformed it – with expansion driven on through the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade. By the beginning of the 19th century 40% of the world’s trade passed through Liverpool’s docks and at times its wealth exceed even that of London.
Any visitor to the city’s Maritime Museum quickly realises that two dark shadows hang over the history of Liverpool – the slave trade and the Irish famine.
In 1847 Dr.Duncan, the city’s pioneering Public Health Officer recorded over a thousand fatalities among Irish people fleeing the famine and there were an estimated 20,000 street children with 100,000 people living in abject poverty. In 1868 48,000 children between the ages of 5 and 14 attended no school.
Our link with a tragedy that cost Ireland 1 million lives is written in the city’s DNA but in Africa Liverpool is remembered as the engine room of the slave trade.
In 1807 the year in which William Wilberforce succeeded in abolishing the trans-Atlantic trade, there were four million people in slavery worldwide. He was assisted by the Liverpool slave trader, John Newton – later of Amazing Grace fame – who published his influential pamphlet “Thoughts on the African Slave Trade” and gave evidence in Parliament about the horrors and cruelties in which he had been involved. With Newton stands the remarkable William Roscoe.
Notably, during his three months as a Member of the House of Commons, Liverpool’s William Roscoe, one of the founders of the college which evolved into this University, voted against the slave trade and spent the rest of his life championing the oppressed, promoting education, and developing the city’s culture and civic institutions. In Parliament, Roscoe said “I consider it the greatest happiness of my existence to lift up my voice on this occasion with the friends of justice and humanity.” In his epic poem, “The Wrongs of Africa” he warned his countrymen: “Forget not Britain, higher still than thee, sits the great judge of nations, who can weigh the wrong and can repay.”
Almost 200 years later, at the turn of this Millennium, I took a Declaration from Liverpool to West Africa – expressing the city’s “sense of remorse” over the effects of the slave trade “on countless millions of people” and the City Council’s unanimous decision to “co-ordinate the use of all its powers to foster better race relations, greater equality of opportunities and even greater diversity.”
So, it’s important to know your history but not to become trapped in or to become prisoners of your own history. The Chinese calligraphy for crisis can also be read as opportunity. Perhaps that’s the spirit in which we need to view our history and the opportunity which the Commonwealth offers us.
As a British-Irish city it would be wonderful if we could play some part in encouraging Ireland to re-join the Commonwealth. It was excluded in 1949 when it became a Republic, although one year later the rules were changed to enable India to remain a member.
10% of British people have a grandparent or parent of Irish descent – as I do myself. I have British and Irish passports, as my children do. And our links are not only through blood. Britain’s biggest export destination in the European Union is Ireland.
But our relationships have been disfigured by centuries of violence. Last year saw a further healing of our shared history when President Michael D. Higgins returned the State Visit of Her Majesty the Queen and she entertained Martin McGuinness at Windsor Castle.
It is, of course, entirely a matter for the Irish Government but people need to put out a welcome mat and what a message it would send to divided societies the world over.
But if Liverpool saw itself as a Commonwealth City it could do much more than that.
In 2002 the Manchester Commonwealth Games generated more than £2 billion; last year’s Glasgow Games drew in more than 6,500 athletes and officials in 17 sports and a global audience of around 1.5 billion people. With its reputation for sporting excellence Liverpool can learn from those experiences; but its reputation goes much wider than this.
Since 2004 much of the city’s waterfront has had World Heritage status and its economy also continues to give it international, world status. The Post-Panamaz container terminal extension will berth some of the world’s biggest container vessels – doubling the Port’s container capacity from 700,000 containers each year to 2 million by 2020. The new cruise liner terminal, situated close to the city centre and Liverpool One and wonderful facilities, such as the Echo Arena, and some fine hotels, once again makes Liverpool a city which can generate visitors, conferences, opportunities. Since its 2008 designation as European Capital of Culture – which through overnight visitors generated £188 million into the local economy – tourism has been estimated to be worth over £1 billion a year to the city.
Yet, what is there in Liverpool that specifically celebrates the Commonwealth or seeks to promote and deepen our links to Commonwealth countries and Commonwealth cities?
Among the exhibits at the Museum of Liverpool is the cotton brokers’ ring which was the first purpose built stand of its kind in England and was made in 1906.
Liverpool’s Cotton Exchange directly tapped into world markets with countries like India. Today, with a quarter of the world’s population, 20% of the world’s trade and thousands of listed companies, and the English language, the Commonwealth offers unsurpassed opportunities to a city like Liverpool – and we should seize the opportunity with enthusiasm.
The cotton brokers’ ring might be an appropriate symbol to promote the ring of friendships, shared experiences, and business opportunities which the Commonwealth could offer Liverpool today. One of the greatest of those opportunities is represented by education.
What is the special role of the Commonwealth in promoting education?
Liverpool has three fine universities – home to more than 50,000 students – along with its wonderful School of Tropical Medicine, of which I am a Vice President.
Founded in 1881 by William Rathbone, Liverpool University has some 21,000 students pursuing over 450 programmes spanning 54 subject areas; LJMU traces its foundation to 1823, is the biggest of the three (the twentieth largest in the UK), with more than 24,000 students, including 4,270 postgraduate students; while Liverpool Hope, the only ecumenical university in Europe, home to 7,885 students.
The Liverpool School of Tropical medicine, situated in the Ward and the Constituencies which I represented, was established in 1898 and became the first institution in the world dedicated to research and teaching in tropical medicine.
With a research portfolio of £220 million it has established a global reputation – not least thanks to the significant support of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Welcome Trust and DFID.
LSTM has partnerships and projects operating in over 70 countries – many of them Commonwealth countries – and offers a range of postgraduate education programmes, teaching over 600 students from around the world.
In parenthesis I might say that when I travel to some of the countries from which Liverpool and the UK draws international students, one question is always raised:
“Why does the UK insist on a visa system which is so hostile to students entering the UK?”
It’s a question which, in turn, I ask the Government and have yet to receive a satisfactory reply. I am also disappointed by a retrenchment on commonwealth scholarships. It is worth noting that in his youth the Canadian Governor or the Bank of England, was the beneficiary of a Commonwealth Scholarship.
However, for the first time in decades the number of international students has declined – most notably from India. Is it any wonder, then, that despite 250 years of trading with India, Switzerland is now said to have more trade with India than we do. These things feed into one another and this is incredibly short-sighted.
While I served as Chairman of the Council for education in the Commonwealth I was equally critical of the decision to reduce funding for students from the poorest Commonwealth countries.
All of this, notwithstanding, whether in its undergraduates or post graduates Liverpool should truly see itself as a City of Learning. It should not lose the reputation of its former colleges – such as, St. Katherine’s, Notre Dame and Christ’s – as some of the best Colleges of Education in Britain for the formation of teachers. Take the example of Malaysia.
In 1953, despite a sometimes tortured relationship with the UK, Malaysia joined and remains a member of the Commonwealth.
In those days many Malaysian teachers were trained here at Kirkby Teacher Training College, which closed in 1962.
Today the traditions of the college are incorporated in Liverpool John Moores. The university also has a significant presence, a regional office and graduations in Kuala Lumpur and a thriving cohort among its overseas students, studying in Liverpool. Many of those trained here have run Malaysia’s schools and colleges – cherishing the values they embraced.
Take two other Commonwealth countries: Nigeria and Pakistan.
In Nigeria Boko Haram – which means eradicate western education – routinely murders students and abducts girls and young women to prevent them receiving an education. In Pakistan the Taliban shoot girls like Malala Yousafzai for seeking an education.
They and Boko Haram fear what Malala stands for and summed up in her phrase: “One child, one teacher, one book, one pen can change the world.”
Elsewhere, especially in Africa – home to so many Commonwealth countries – the streets are awash with orphans – some of the 150 million in the world. Uganda has nearly 3 million – with 1 million orphaned by AIDS.
The AIDS pandemic, conflict – represented at its most graphic at the genocide sites I have visited in Rwanda – urban drift to the shanti towns I have seen first-hand in places, like Kibera, where people live in utter squalor and earn an average of less than $1 a day, human trafficking and corruption, all provide fertile breeding grounds for Jihadists and violent organisations.
The antidote to this will always be education. As the son of an immigrant whose first language wasn’t English, born into a home without inside sanitation, and who had no-one on either side of the family who had ever entered higher education, I know this to be emphatically true. But don’t take it from me.
Nelson Mandela, incarcerated for 27 years, would become an inspirational Commonwealth leader, the embodiment of reconciliation, forgiveness and true nobility. He said of the Commonwealth, which played such an important role in the ending of apartheid:
‘The Commonwealth makes the world safe for diversity’.
As an orphan himself he insisted:
“There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children…We owe our children, the most vulnerable citizens in our society, a life free of violence and fear.”
And he also said “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world”
Is this not a challenge which we might embrace?
On a visit to Kenya, to open a school house for blind children, I was struck by the slogan which the children had chosen to hang over the door: “Give us only opportunity, not sympathy.”
On another occasion, in another part of Kenya, in the remote region of Turkana, I saw ways in which new educational opportunities are opening up. In a large hut in the centre of a compound, solar energy was helping to power internet links and several students were gathered around screens soaking up an education.
The Commonwealth has recognised this through the Commonwealth of Learning – an intergovernmental organisation created by Commonwealth Heads of Government to encourage the development and sharing of open learning/distance education knowledge, resources and technologies. Headquartered in Canada it is an exciting initiative helping developing nations improve access to quality education and training.
Its strategic goals are quality education for all Commonwealth citizens; human resource development in the Commonwealth; and the harnessing technology to achieve development goals.
COL has been the catalyst for initiative and projects such as the Open University of Tanzania; a medical education network in Malaysia; and a media centre for Asia based in New Delhi. Its focus has included open schooling, teacher education, a virtual university for small states; technical and vocational skills; life-long learning for farmers; and opportunities for women and resource poor communities.
Is this not one of many opportunities for our Liverpool universities and our educationalists: for our city? I wonder how many of our city’s schools are linked to the Commonwealth class project, in which the British Council and BBC have played a leading role, and which is promoting Commonwealth identity to seven to 14 year olds by linking no fewer than 100,000 Commonwealth schools on line?
Designating the city as a Commonwealth City and backing it up with political and civic commitment, in partnership with key institutions, entrepreneurs and commerce, with some achievable practical objectives and projects, would be good for Liverpool and good for those with whom we engage. We could make a start by flying the Commonwealth flag from the Town Hall and public buildings on Commonwealth Day – celebrated on the second Monday of March.
At the outset, I said that like the Romans, I would divide my version of Gaul into three parts:
What the Commonwealth stands for in the modern world;
What the declaration of Liverpool as a Commonwealth City might offer us; and
What is the special role of the Commonwealth in promoting education?
I don’t know that I have done justice to these themes but I know that I am not among those who dismiss the Commonwealth of little importance – a relic which fosters delusions of British influence on the world’s stage. Quite the reverse.
This country and the Commonwealth can be a compelling and dynamic force for good in the world – and in among the surge in demands for human rights, for law based societies, for democracy, and as we face changing economic circumstances, global uncertainty, new threats to peace, stability, diversity and the environment, and changing patterns of trade and economics, I know that we need more networks and organisations like the Commonwealth – not fewer.
David Alton –Lord Alton of Liverpool – is Professor of Citizenship at Liverpool John Moores University and Director of the university’s Roscoe Foundation for Citizenship.
University Details: Roscoe Foundation for Citizenship, Liverpool John Moores University, 0151 231 3852.
Baroness Northover, the Department for International Development, has provided the following answer to your written parliamentary question (HL4385):
Question:To ask Her Majesty’s Government when officials from the Department for International Development, the European Union or United Nations agencies last had access to conflict areas of South Kordofan, Blue Nile and Darfur; how many displaced people are estimated to be located in Blue Nile and the Nuba Mountains; and how many refugees and people displaced by conflict in the Republic of Sudan and South Sudan are estimated to be in camps inside and outside these countries. (HL4385)
Tabled on: 23 January 2015
United Nations agencies operate in all five states of Darfur and Government held areas of Blue Nile and South Kordofan. DFID and ECHO travel regularly to these states (with the exception of South Kordofan) to monitor programmes. The Government routinely denies humanitarian access to areas of active conflict where needs are often greatest. Humanitarian access from Sudan to opposition held areas of Blue Nile and South Kordofan has been blocked by the Government since 2012.
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates that there are 3.1 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Sudan, 1,470,000 of these live in IDP camps in Darfur. There are 540,000 IDPs in the Blue Nile and Nuba Mountains, with a fifth of these living in non-government controlled areas. There are an estimated 625,000 Sudanese refugees in neighbouring countries. In South Sudan, there are around 1.5 million IDPs and 500,000 South Sudanese refugees in neighbouring countries, including 120,000 in Sudan
Date and time of answer: 03 Feb 2015 at 15:27.
Baroness Northover, the Department for International Development, has provided the following answer to your written parliamentary question (HL4386):
Question:To ask Her Majesty’s Government how many children living in Sudanese internally displaced persons (IDP) camps are estimated to be receiving education; how many schools are known to be occupied by armed militias or IDPs; what reports they have received of forced marriage, rape, and gender-based violence in camps such as Maban refugee camp; what access women in those camps have to medical services and psychosocial support; and how many pregnant women are estimated by the United Nations Population Fund to be in need of urgent care, and to be at risk of dying because of complications, respectively. (HL4386)
Tabled on: 23 January 2015
According to OCHA, less than 60 per cent of children in almost two thirds of localities in Darfur have access to basic education. Over half of all primary school aged girls in West Darfur and 45 per cent in South Darfur do not attend school. In Sudan, the UK supports education projects through the Common Humanitarian Fund. In 2013-14, CHF funded projects reached 223,000 people across Sudan, the majority of which were children in conflict affected areas of Darfur, South Kordofan and Blue Nile.
Recent insecurity and displacement in both Sudan and South Sudan have led to a further increase in women’s vulnerability and risk of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) although there is a poor reporting of incidents. In Maban refugee camp in South Sudan, there were 316 SGBV incidents reported in 2014. Domestic violence remains the most widespread type of incident in the camp, accounting for 59% of all reported cases, followed by forced marriage (11%), rape (9%) and attempted rape (5%). Women in Maban refugee camp access SGBV prevention and response services including counselling, case management and psychosocial support. The UK supports the provision of these services through the UNHCR.
UNFPA estimates that around 44,211 women in IDP camps in Darfur are pregnant and in need of safe motherhood services. An estimated 6,632 pregnant women are expected to develop a potentially life-threatening complication during pregnancy or at the time of delivery, and may require a Caesarean section.
Date and time of answer: 03 Feb 2015 at 15:26.
Baroness Northover, the Department for International Development, has provided the following answer to your written parliamentary question (HL4406):
Question:To ask Her Majesty’s Government how many (1) cases, and (2) deaths, in Sudanese refugee camps have been reported by the World Health Organisation of (a) cholera, (b) malaria, (c) malnutrition, and (d) diarrhoeal diseases; how many people have been killed by violence since December 2013 in Sudan and South Sudan; how many people living in areas of conflict in Sudan and South Sudan are projected to be in crisis or emergency phases of food insecurity; how many are estimated to be in urgent need of humanitarian assistance; and what percentage of internally displaced persons are estimated to live in flood-prone areas. (HL4406)
Tabled on: 26 January 2015
There is no official figure for how many people have been killed by violence in Sudan and South Sudan. In South Sudan, the International Crisis Group (ICG), estimates that at least 50,000 people have been killed since conflict broke out in December 2013.
The UN currently estimates that 5.4 million people need humanitarian assistance in Sudan in 2015. In South Sudan it is projected that 2.5 million conflict affected people will be in crisis or emergency phases of food insecurity during January to March 2015.
In Sudan, 871,160 IDPs live in flood-prone areas, constituting 28% of the total IDP population.
Date and time of answer: 03 Feb 2015 at 15:25.
Lord Bates, the Home Office, has provided the following answer to your written parliamentary question (HL4384):
Question:To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the reply by Baroness Northover on 13 January (HL Deb, col 652) and the Written Answer by Lord Bates on 21 January (HL4111) what is the difference between the 3,800 “Syrian nationals and their dependents” to whom they say they have given sanctuary and the 90 people whom they say were relocated to the United Kingdom under the Vulnerable Persons Relocation Scheme; what is meant by the phrase “given sanctuary”; how many of those given sanctuary were invited to the United Kingdom; how many came under their own steam; how many of the 3,800 Syrians have been given asylum or granted re-settlement; how many arrived in the United Kingdom before the present disturbances; and how many refugees in the United Kingdom are from Iraq or other parts of the Middle East region. (HL4384)
Tabled on: 23 January 2015
The latest published figures show that between April 2011 and the end of September 2014, a total of 3,468 Syrians were granted protection in the United Kingdom. This number represents those people who have claimed asylum in the United Kingdom, and includes those who have left Syria since the onset of the crisis, as well as those already residing in the United Kingdom who are unable to return safely. It is not possible to break the data down further to show how many people have arrived in the UK since the onset of the crisis, as opposed to those who were already residing in the UK.
The 90 people who were relocated under the Syrian Vulnerable Persons Relocation Scheme (VPRS) between March 2014 and end of September 2014 are in addition to the number quoted above. Potential beneficiaries of the scheme are referred to us from Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt by UNHCR on the basis of vulnerability.
The next set of asylum and VPRS statistics will be published on 26 February.
The phrase ‘given sanctuary’ is defined as those given protection by the United Kingdom. The table below shows the number of people from the Middle East who have been granted a form of protection or other leave after claiming asylum in the UK. It includes those granted asylum, discretionary leave, humanitarian protection, as well as other grants outside these three categories. The data also include dependents.
Q2 2011 – Q3 2014
Saudi Arabia 35
Date and time of answer: 05 Feb 2015 at 14:08.
Baroness Anelay of St Johns, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, has provided the following answer to your written parliamentary question (HL4439):
Question:To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the impact on human rights and religious liberties of Burma’s new Religious Conversion Bill and of other new bills in that country aimed at the protection of race and religion and which focus on restricting inter-faith marriage, monogamy and population control; and what representations they have made to the government of Burma on the matter. (HL4439)
Tabled on: 27 January 2015
Answer:Baroness Anelay of St Johns:
Restrictions on interfaith marriage, religious conversion and population growth are currently being debated in the Burmese parliament. We are concerned that, if enacted, these laws could harm religious tolerance and respect for diversity in Burma, and contravene international standards and treaties to which Burma is a signatory.
We have voiced our concerns over this proposed legislation to members of the Burmese government and to Burmese parliamentarians. Most recently, Minister of State at the Home Office, my right hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Lynne Featherstone), raised the issue when she met Deputy Foreign Minister Thant Kyaw during her visit to Burma in January. The UK also endorsed a statement issued by EU Heads of Mission in Rangoon in January reiterating those concerns and calling on the Burmese government and parliament to ensure that all new legislation is fully compliant with Burma’s international human rights obligations. We will continue to raise this issue in our dealings with the Burmese authorities, both in public and in private.
Date and time of answer: 05 Feb 2015 at 15:23.
Baroness Anelay of St Johns, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, has provided the following answer to your written parliamentary question (HL4407):
Question:To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the report and recommendations of the All Party Group for Sudan and South Sudan, launched on 21 January, “Bridging the Gaps: Lessons from International Engagement with South Sudan 2011–2014″. (HL4407)
Tabled on: 26 January 2015
Answer:Baroness Anelay of St Johns:
We welcome the All Party Group’s report on South Sudan as a valuable and thorough contribution on an important subject. Officials are studying the detailed recommendations. Our most immediate priority remains securing peace and the formation of an inclusive transitional government that is willing to address long-term issues, and – supported by the international community – to engage widely, deeply and consistently with the people of South Sudan.
Date and time of answer: 02 Feb 2015 at 16:27.
Baroness Anelay of St Johns, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, has provided the following answer to your written parliamentary question (HL4408):
Question:To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their assessment of (1) violence in Sudan and South Sudan over the past three months, (2) reports of aerial bombardment of civilian populations, (3) the provision of arms, (4) the number of children recruited into militias, (5) the report by the United Nations Security Council of crimes committed against children, and (6) the number of unaccompanied and separated children identified by UNICEF since the conflict began. (HL4408)
Tabled on: 26 January 2015
Answer:Baroness Anelay of St Johns:
Since the end of the rainy season we have noted an increase in fighting in both Sudan and South Sudan. We are deeply concerned at aerial bombings in the Two Areas (South Kordofan and Blue Nile) of Sudan, and have condemned the recent attack on a hospital run by Medecins Sans Frontieres. Recent evidence of violations of the UN arms embargo in Darfur will inform our approach to upcoming discussions on the renewal of the mandate for the sanctions regime. EU arms embargoes continue to remain in place on both countries.
Children continue to be seriously affected by the conflicts in both countries, and we are particularly concerned by the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) estimates that since the outbreak of conflict in December 2013 almost 7,000 children have been separated from their families and 12,000 used by armed groups in South Sudan alone. South Sudan attended the UK-led roundtable on Children and Armed Conflict in New York in September 2014, and we agree with the Secretary General’s recommendation in his report of 11 December 2014 that the Government of South Sudan should develop and implement a strategy for the demobilisation, disarmament and reintegration of children. As we highlighted in last year’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s Human Rights Report, the Government of Sudan is also yet to fully implement their Child Act (enacted in 2010), which prohibits recruitment of children to armed groups in Darfur and the Two Areas.
Date and time of answer: 02 Feb 2015 at 16:23.
Baroness Anelay of St Johns, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, has provided the following answer to your written parliamentary question (HL4409):
Question:To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the report of the assassination of a number of professors from the University of Mosul because of their opposition to Daash. (HL4409)
Tabled on: 26 January 2015
Answer:Baroness Anelay of St Johns:
We are aware of reports that the self-styled Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) has killed a number of professors from Mosul University. We are horrified by the atrocities that ISIL continues to commit and strongly condemn all abuses and human rights violations. We continue to encourage the new Iraqi government to ensure the protection of all citizens, promote human rights, reassert the rule of law and bring to justice those responsible for all violations and abuses. The UK is committed to a comprehensive, long-term strategy, as part of a global coalition, to degrade and defeat ISIL.
Date and time of answer: 02 Feb 2015 at 16:22.
Baroness Anelay of St Johns, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, has provided the following answer to your written parliamentary question (HL4410):
Question:To ask Her Majesty’s Government what representations they have made to the government of India about the reported killings in 2014 of Christians and reported assaults on priests, pastors and leaders of Christian communities in acts of religious hatred. (HL4410)
Tabled on: 26 January 2015
Answer:Baroness Anelay of St Johns:
We are aware of reports of attacks on Christians and churches in India. These matters are being investigated by the Indian authorities.
I also refer the noble Lord to my answer of 31 December 2014 (HL3827), which gives details of our discussions with the Indian authorities.